Tips to Eating Healthy For Marathon Training

After a year of talking about it, I’m officially training for the LA Marathon. I joined the LA Roadrunners training program with a friend and we’re already up to running 8 miles this weekend. Yay! 8 miles. Boo. I’ve already gained 5 pounds.

A similar thing happened the last time I did the marathon. When I started training in 2006, my son was a year old and I hadn’t lost my baby weight. During the training I got down to my pre-pregnancy weight and felt great. I was like Oprah. I bought a pair of expensive jeans and was so happy to wear them. By the end of the training I had gained 10 pounds back and couldn’t button my new pants.

I’m not letting that happen this time. Or, I won’t let it continue because it seems like it’s already happened. I asked my friend Amelia Winslow of Eating Made Easy for some advice. She has masters’ degrees in nutrition and public health, she’s a personal chef and a food blogger. Here is the Q & A.

Yvonne – The last time I ran the LA Marathon I lost about 20 pounds, but near the end I gained 10 of it back. This time, I’m only 3 weeks in and I’ve gained 5 pounds. Any idea what I’m doing wrong?

Amelia – Many people, especially women, gain weight when they’re training for a marathon or big event, because they feel hungry all the time and end up eating all the time.
Just as in any other time period in your life, losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight takes work, and even though you’re exercising a lot, diet is still 70% of the healthy weight puzzle.

Yvonne – I’m not running the marathon to lose weight (ok, maybe 10 pounds). But how do I keep from gaining weight?

Amelia – When you begin training for an event, or exercising for the first time, it’s normal to be hungrier than you were before. For example, someone who rarely eats breakfast may wake up starving during a vigorous exercise program, because her calorie needs are higher and her metabolism has increased.
However, this increased hunger and calorie-burning does not warrant a free-for-all when it comes to eating. If your goal is to lose weight, you need to be sure that you’re still eating fewer calories than you burn, and this will take some careful attention, especially if you’re feeling very hungry.
The best way to lose or maintain weight during an exercise program is to write down what you eat, and to eat frequent, healthy meals and snacks.
Never let yourself get so ravenous that you’re tempted to binge on whatever’s around. Instead, plan ahead so that you have healthy foods with you when you’re hungry, whether that’s at home or on-the-go.
For tips on how and when to plan ahead, visit:

Yvonne – For people who are trying to lose weight, how can they do it safely but still have enough energy to run?

Amelia – Frequent running will certainly help someone lose weight, but only if this exercise is combined with a healthy, calorie-controlled diet. The first step is to keep a food & exercise diary. Write down everything you eat, what you do for exercise, and how you’re feeling when you eat (bored, starving, tired, etc). After a week or two, look back and examine the diary. You’ll see patterns of behavior that you’ll then be able to change if you want.

Then, figure out how many calories you should be eating in order to lose the amount of weight that you want, via this method:
Write down everything you eat for 5 days, including at least one weekend day (without changing your diet). Figure out how many daily calories you’re eating on average, either on your own ( has an extensive database that may help) or with the help of a nutritionist. Figure out how many pounds you want to lose. It takes a 3500-calorie deficit to lose one pound, so if you want to lose one pound per week, you’ll have to cut 500 calories from each day, whether that’s through eating less or exercising. Most people burn about 100 calories per mile of exercise, so if you’re averaging 5 miles/day, you’ll be burning 500 calories/day, which means you’ll lose one pound per week if you don’t change your eating habits at all.
Some healthy eating tips for hungry runners who want to control calories:
Bulk up meals by adding veggies to everything: pastas, soups, sandwiches, wraps, burritos, tacos, stews, omelets, etc.
Shred or dice veggies into everything you make.
Snack on high-fiber fruits and veggies between meals, to tide you over.
Make sure you’re eating at least 5 servings of veggies and 2 servings of fruit per day. If you’re not, that means there are too many other less-nutritious, higher calorie foods in your diet.
Eat only whole grains – 100% whole grain bread, brown rice, whole grain pasta, whole grain cereals, etc – so you get lots of fiber, which helps keep you full.
Don’t ever let yourself get too hungry.  No one can make healthy eating decisions when they feel starving!

Yvonne – What is the ideal diet for a beginning or intermediate runner who is training for the marathon?

Amelia – Make sure meals and snacks are a combination of lean protein, whole grain carbs, and a little fat.
If you’re hungry between meals, have a healthy snack, rather than waiting until the next meal.
A piece/cup of fruit with a piece of cheese or a small handful (10-15) of nuts is a great snack because it provides fiber, healthy fat, and protein—all of which will keep you satisfied until you eat again.
Keep “empty calories” (candy, cookies, chips, fried foods, soda, etc) to a minimum.
Your body is working hard during training, and it needs more nutrients, so you need to make sure that almost everything you put into your mouth is “fuel” for your body.
Don’t think of all this running as an excuse to eat more of whatever you want, or you may end up gaining weight.

Yvonne – What are the best healthy snacks for runners?

Amelia – Combinations of carb + lean protein, with a little fat (preferably unsaturated a.k.a. from a plant source or fish).
Large pear with 1 oz cheese
Apple with 15 almonds or 8 walnut halves
1 cup berries with 1 cup nonfat Greek yogurt and 1 Tbsp chopped nuts
½ cup cottage cheese with halved cherry tomatoes on top
Piece of whole grain toast with 1 Tbsp nut butter and ½ a banana
Hard boiled egg with 1 serving whole grain crackers
1 cup carrot sticks with 2 Tbsp hummus and 2 Tbsp tzaziki
Homemade smoothie: ½ cup milk or soymilk, ½ cup plain lowfat yogurt, 1 cup frozen berries, ½ banana, ice to taste
Chocolate low-fat milk blended with 1 Tbsp peanut butter
1 corn tortilla with ¼ cup canned refried beans and 1 oz melted cheese, heated in toaster oven or microwave
6 oz plain lowfat yogurt with ¼ cup granola and ½ cup chopped fruit
1 cup whole grain cereal with 1 cup skim milk
3 oz smoked salmon with 1 Tbsp light cream cheese on 1 piece toast
½ cup chicken, tuna, or canned salmon salad on 1 serving whole grain crackers

For more snack ideas, see here:

Yvonne – Is it okay to drink moderately when training for a marathon? I think a glass of red wine occasionally will make me a better runner, am I kidding myself?

Amelia – As long as you’re aware of the extra calories that alcohol contributes to your diet, drinking moderately during training is no problem. Just pay attention to how you feel during your run the day after a glass of wine; if it’s more sluggish or fatigued then it might be best to skip the wine. Keeping a food & exercise diary during training will help you track how you feel.

Yvonne – Do you have a healthy breakfast recipe that would be ideal for a runner?

Amelia – As with other meals, breakfast will be most satisfying if it combines whole grains with lean protein. One great example is Breakfast Quinoa (pictured above).

2 Replies to “Tips to Eating Healthy For Marathon Training”

  1. This was very interesting even for those of us not doing the marathon. I need to kick start my weight loss and Amelia gave some great tips. Good luck with the training.

  2. This looks so helpful! I have done frequent running and I agree it really works well for those who want to loss weight.It just takes a bigger effort to reach your goal of burning those fats and gaining the ideal body you want.

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